Franz West ‘Man with a Ball’
October 9 - November 10, 2012
Review by Tim Walsh
Humorous, non-chalant and familiar forms welcome us to the foyer of Gagosian’s light-filled Brittania Street space. Leading the viewer into the main gallery, Franz West’s ‘Untitled’ 2011 is a large-scale sculptural stylisation, uncoiling and pirouetting in front of the reception desk. ‘Man with a Ball’, West’s final show with Gagosian prior to his death in 2012, lands as a solid, quasi-retrospective look at the artist’s regular product line. The exhibition features mostly new works from 2011 and 2012 that continue West’s iconic series, including the bandaged, monumental earthworms, furniture design, indistinct paintings and more varied adaptive (paßstücke) pieces. ‘Man with a Ball’ represents a diverse career geared towards wry subversion and a gentle, endearing cynicism.1
In the centre of the main gallery, alternative pastel-coloured variations of West’s standard worm curl - with one baby blue number reaching upwards plaintively toward the sunlights illuminating the space. At the foot of its taller brother, a lower, ground-dwelling tendril parodies famed Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s signature. From this central position, a solid selection of works spill throughout the stunted L-shape space. The more successful pieces are those that shy away from the larger shapes of West’s thoroughly represented back catalogue. Perched on top of the spread-eagled legs of ironing boards, amorphous blobs are dressed in gauze and papier-mâché, then blushed and powdered with incandescent colours. Siblings to West’s ‘Sisyphos’ series that he began in 2002, these new mixes of swollen, neon-rot growths with fresh, barely-creased cardboard result in a joyful and buoyant series of works.
Like many artists who emerged from the 1960s, West grappled with the legacy of modernism and the apparent ‘‘collapse of utopias.‘2 West remained pragmatic, and decided (in the words of Liam Gillick) ‘’[that] you might as well do something’ despite the morbid conditions. West has invariably also had comparisons to relational aesthetics levelled at his practice that he has seemed to shake off or shy away from. Though this might be something that does not sit comfortably in relation to his oeuvre in general, it does go some distance in contextualising the more humble and pertinent accomplishments of West’s practice. This can be seen especially in his large-scale and often public sculptures - their indifference to the responsibility of being a symbol in perpetuity, revelling instead in an innocent, casual need to inhabit space. West seems interested in these more unassuming, but still necessary achievements - what Claire Bishop might describe as ‘‘provisional solutions in the here and now’‘3 This coy-like modesty remains one of the endearing legacies of the work of Franz West.
1 Jan Verwoert ‘Adaptation’ Frieze, Accessed online Tuesday 30 October http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/adaptation/
2 Liam Gillick in Christine Mehring ‘Tools of Engagement’ p326 Artforum
3 Claire Bishop ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’ p54 October